A disconcerting surge in transphobic content has proliferated across various social media platforms with the particularly troubling rise of the “transvestigation” conspiracy theory. This baseless belief, which posits that prominent individuals, as well as the general population, are secretly transgender, has gained prominence in recent years. Videos dating back over seven years showcase the longevity of this conspiracy, but its resurgence has been particularly notable amidst a backdrop of increased attacks on transgender individuals.
Social media platforms once heralded as spaces for connection and expression have now become breeding grounds for transphobia. The “transvestigation” conspiracy has founded a disturbingly large audience, evident in over a billion views on the related TikTok hashtag and the creation of Facebook groups ranging from thousands to tens of thousands of members.
In the murky realm of conspiracy theories, a fringe belief known as “transvestigation” has emerged with adherents claiming that prominent individuals, including celebrities, politicians, and public figures, are secretly transgender. This theory takes an even more extreme turn for some, contending that everyone is transgender and leaving only the theory believer as the last remaining cisgender person on Earth. Disturbingly, this conviction leads some enthusiasts to engage in invasive and unethical practices, such as taking unconsented photographs for their so-called “transvestigations.”
The core of the “transvestigation” theory hinges on the idea that a global conspiracy orchestrated by a secretive elite involves the widespread concealment of individuals’ true gender identities. Adherents of this theory often scrutinize public figures, searching for perceived physical features or mannerisms that they interpret as evidence of a hidden transgender identity. The lack of credible evidence supporting these claims is stark, as medical privacy laws and ethical considerations preclude the revelation of an individual’s personal gender history without their consent.
The “investigators” will typically use the physical characteristics of the individual to deduce whether they are trans or not. For example, they will analyze numerous aspects of the person, like the clavicles (collarbones) of a person. A longer and thicker clavicle is perceived to be a more masculine trait, and wider and more flared hips are a feminine trait. A jawline being more pronounced is a masculine feature. The forehead and hairline of a person. The finger lengths of people. This goes both ways. If a male has a less defined jawline and more pronounced hips, then according to these “investigators” they were a female at birth.
The most commonly used aspect is the pronunciation of an individual’s laryngeal or Adam’s apple. Males will typically have a more pronounced Adam’s apple than females. However, it is not uncommon for men’s laryngeals not to protrude and for females to have a more pronounced one.
Margot Robbie has been “investigated.” The “evidence” comes from the shape of her skull, her straighter-than-normal clavicles and her high cheekbones. Henry Cavill received similar treatment because of the shape of his eyes and his brow ridge.
“Transvestigations” became popularized online as early as September 4th 2014, when Joan Rivers died. Two months earlier on July 3, Rivers made a joke that Barack Obama was the first gay president and that his wife Michelle is transgender. After Rivers died, some people online began to speculate that Rivers was killed because she revealed that Michelle Obama was transgender.
In May 2016, controversial conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, known for his incendiary commentary, asserted that Rivers had been deliberately silenced for purportedly disclosing classified information about Obama’s transgender status. This gained traction within fringe circles on social media and alternative news platforms.
The reason why these “investigations” take place ranges. Some believe that a person must become trans to become powerful and famous in the world, orchestrated by elite societies like Free-Masons that have made deals with the devil. Others use it as a way to humiliate others, using current hatred against trans people as a means to hurt others.
This off-brand version of phrenology has hurt people, and will continue to be used to try and hamper another person’s life. This trend does not only affect celebrities.
In Utah, a state swimming champion was accused of being trans because she won the race. The second-place and third-place parents accused them of being trans because she did not “look” feminine enough to be a girl. These parents seemingly did it because their daughter lost a race.
Earlier this year, two adults accused a 9-year-old girl at a track meet. A grandfather of another student shouted out saying that the event was supposed to be an event for girls, so “why are you letting boys compete?” The wife of the man followed up, calling the parents of the girl pedophiles. Their evidence was that she had a short haircut.
The effects can be felt by everyone, whether they are accused or not. The transphobia and “transvestigations” affect those accused and people who are trans.
“There is an increase in the incidence of depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts within the LGBTQ community, and even greater within the transgender community,” said Patricia Hunter, MA, LPC, counselor at Commonwealth University Lock Haven Campus. The alienation of trans people from the public has dramatically altered their lives. “These theories reinforce that ‘differences’ between individuals will not be tolerated, which results in rejection, bullying and sometimes violence perpetrated by those who choose to listen to these conspiracy theories rather than simply take the time to get to know someone who is transgender or become more educated on the facts…”
This level of transphobia in certain sections of the public has altered the choices and abilities of others. “Recently, these theories have led to inappropriate labeling and extending bans to activities such as drag shows and book reading…” Hunter mentions.
The impact of such baseless accusations and invasive scrutiny not only inflicts undue harm on individuals, but perpetuates a hostile environment for trans individuals and that extends to others. By fostering fear, discrimination, and unwarranted suspicion, these theories erode empathy, respect, and understanding. Counteracting these damaging narratives necessitates collective efforts in education, advocacy, and empathy-building to foster a world where kindness prevails over baseless discrimination and unfounded conspiracies.